Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Quantum of the Seas - Too MUCH Innovation?

Royal Caribbean revealed their big Quantum of Solace new-ship details this week in a grand online presentation featuring godmother-to-be Kristin Chenoweth.

It was a glamorous and eye-catching show, with plenty of novel features aboard their latest-and-greatest, which builds on the dramatic success of their 220,000-ton Oasis class duo.

Quantum will add still more innovative elements to the Royal Caribbean line-up, including several headline-grabbing features, like the North Star - a giant mechanical arm with a glass capsule at one end to give passengers a genuinely different view of the ship (above) - and a breathtaking-looking 3-storey lounge venue, Two70, that provides a wide variety of entertainment options, including a night-time aspect where the glass windows become a giant LED screen (below).

Other innovations include inside staterooms with 'virtual balconies' (taking Disney Cruise Line's 'virtual' portholes idea and making it substantially bigger), an onboard 'skydiving' facility (like the land-based vertical wind-tunnels we see at places like iFly Orlando), bumper cars, a circus school, extensive Music Hall live entertainment venue and more. Much more.

And they have yet to unveil any of their dining options and other interior detail!

What we saw this week adds up to a truly mind-boggling array of headline features and amenities for the 4,180-guest ship, which will make its debut in autumn 2014 out of New York.

It certainly adds to the improbable-but-impressive Oasis-class ships, but I have to wonder - at what point do we try to put too MUCH innovation on what is still, essentially, a floating vessel for a week's holiday?

We've seen rock-climbing walls, ziplines, surf pools, ice rinks, bowling alleys and self-levelling pool tables, not to mention a wide array of water slides, extravagant open-air venues, giant video screens and all manner of 'virtual reality' gadgets.

But this is still supposed to be a cruise ship, right? And much of what is being presented here (the likes of bumper cars, rock-climbing, ziplines, etc) can all be done on land, and substantially better.

So why do cruise lines think it is necessary to bombard us with more and more "cruise innovation"? By all means provide new entertainment; the likes of Norwegian Cruise Line's onboard Blue Man Group and Legends In Concert shows are a great addition, as is Royal Caribbean's DreamWorks tie-up to provide onboard character interactions. And the expansion in dining options is very welcome and a notable feature of just about every new ship these days.

But, to be honest, much of what has been released about Quantum of the Seas smacks of sheer gimmickry, providing new ideas simply because they can, not because they are necessarily good ideas. There has to be an unknown safety question to things like North Star and onboard skydiving (which is an incredibly difficult - and expensive - skill to master, if you've been to anywhere like iFly Orlando) and, while the idea of a 'virtual balcony' is pretty cute, how much does it ratchet up the price?

I have always thought that the Oasis-class finally broke the mould of what could realistically be called a 'cruise ship.' They are, in fact, floating resorts with no connection to the sea. They might just as well be moored on a lake in Las Vegas for all the real 'cruising' they do (just adding to the handful of standard and rather dull Caribbean ports of call that can handle these behemoths). 

So you'll have to excuse me if I reserve judgement on the Quantum experiment for now. Because that is what it seems - an experiment in what people will actually accept in cruise terms. And safety.

PS: for the full video 'reveal' on Quantum, see this link to our friends at Cruise Radio.